University of Missouri Extension

Robert E. Thomas
Information Specialist

Published: March 21, 2006
Story Source: Sandy Rikoon (573) 882-0861; Peggy Kirkpatrick (573) 474-1020

MU study reveals extent, dispels myths
of hunger in central and northeast Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A new University of Missouri study looks at the growing extent of hunger across the state, dispelling stereotypes of those who are hungry and why.

Interviewers talked with more than 1,300 clients in 33 counties served by the Columbia-based Central Missouri Food Bank.

"The study revealed the incredible diversity of hunger. It is everywhere in urban and rural communities," said Sandy Rikoon, an MU professor of rural sociology who led the study. "There is no single face of hunger. You see the elderly, disabled, the under- or the unemployed."

And things donít seem to be getting any better, Rikoon said. Missouri is one of 17 states with a rising percentage of food insecurity. The stateís increase in hunger during the first few years of this century is among the highest five states in the nation, according to USDA data.

Food insecurity in Missouri now affects 261,000 households, including 197,000 children, a USDA report said.

Peggy Kirkpatrick, CMFB executive director since 1992, called information gleaned by the new MU study, which mirrored a less comprehensive 1998 study, "disheartening."

"I was hoping to see things had improved with the economy, education, more two-parent families, but things havenít changed much," Kirkpatrick said. The CMFB distributes more than 18 million tons of food to more than 120 food pantries, emergency kitchens, shelters, daycare and senior citizen centers in central and northeast Missouri.

"So many times the assumption is that those in poverty or hunger are of a particular ethnic group, or deadbeats or people not working. The reality is we reach many working poor individuals who may have more than one job but no benefits or health insurance," she said.

The study indicated that about one-third of the food pantry clients work at least one paying job. That figure is in line with an Americaís Second Harvest nation-wide study that found 36 percent of people eating at soup kitchens, food banks and shelters came from a household in which at least one person had a job.

Forty-two percent of clients interviewed were high school graduates and 22 percent indicated they had some college education. Eighty one percent describe themselves as white, 11 percent black and eight percent as other.

More than three out of four clients were female, 80 percent of which indicated a reported income at or below the poverty level. Children comprised about 40 percent of the clients.

Kirkpatrick said the food bank she directs serves two types of clients — those who are temporally poor due to circumstances such as illness or job loss and the systemic or generational group who keep coming back.

"The paycheck runs out before the month does," she said. "It is incredibly demeaning to go to an agency asking for assistance. In some rural counties, clients will go to another countyís pantry so that no one will know that they need food. They donít want to admit that they canít feed their kids."

In some locations, people will line up two to four hours in the heat or cold before the truck is scheduled to arrive, she said.

Almost half of the respondents said that in the past 12 months they or another household member had to choose between buying food and paying for medicine or medical care. Almost half said their total monthly income from all sources is less than $1,000.

Half of those responding indicated that they spent $50 or less on food each week. The same percentage indicated they use food stamps every month. One out of four has been told by a doctor that they have diabetes and roughly half said they have been told that they have high blood pressure.

"The goal of the survey was to help the CMFB to provide the best possible services to regional residents," said Rikoon. "Data on pantry food users may also point to which groups may be under-utilizing these facilities and the need for new programs to address their needs," he said.

"While many Missourians support the work of the food banks, the scope of food insecurity and hunger often remains unknown by general citizens," Rikoon said. "It is our hope that this survey of clients will raise the awareness of food insecurity in our communities," he said.

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